This is Water

I work in an office. And while this office job is perhaps not as taxing as a job in retail, believe me there are things people do that make my job just a little bit harder. Like stapling checks. I get it, you want the check to be securely fastened. But if you’ve ever had to detach 98 stapled checks from forms you will know that this practice is a giant pain for people working in offices across the country( or so I imagine). So this got me thinking. When it comes to daily social interactions with strangers, why is it so hard for people to be conscious of how their actions might affect others? While I can’t speak for everyone I think the most important reason is that

I’m ignorant.

Bold statement, I know. Admittedly I don’t consider myself ignorant about everything but there are many things I either don’t care to know or don’t even realize I don’t know.

For example, my junior year in high school I overheard a classmate talking about her new job as a hostess. She absolutely hated it and said she had come home crying a few nights. One of the biggest problems she had been having was with the waitresses getting mad at her.

Apparently, in some(many? all?) restaurants the tables are numbered and hostesses have to seat people accordingly so a waiter or waitress doesn’t end up with too many or too few full tables  in their area.

The problem is that people will often  just ignore the host/ hostess’ direction and plop down at whatever table they see fit. Which can seriously piss off the wait staff.

Who knew?

Maybe I spend too much time under my rock, but to me this was the most fascinating thing. Something so simple, yet so often unknown. And a perfect example of how even in our passivity towards the jobs of others we may end up actively making a negative impact on their day.

It reminds me of a section of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon:(transcript from here)

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down”

(Here’s a link to a YouTube video with audio of the “This is Water” Speech”)

There are many things we don’t pay attention to in life, but we have the power to change that deficiency. To take the time to notice others and learn a little bit about their lives.

As Sherlock Holmes would note,

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”


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